Entrepreneurs in Japan's second-largest metropolitan area, centered around Osaka, have a well deserved reputation for spawning new business ideas. After taking root in Kansai, they eventually spread to Tokyo and other parts of the country.
One familiar example of Kansai innovation, dating back to 1970, is "kaiten-zushi," in which diners seated at a counter select servings of sushi transported to them via conveyor belt.
Nine years later, another space-age innovation, Japan's first "capsule hotel" opened close to Umeda, the city's main commuter station. The concept of individual sleep pods resembling a hospital morgue was not entirely new -- the late architect Kisho Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule building was erected in Ginza in 1972. The Osaka hotel's opening was timed to a price increase in taxi fares, which threatened to make late-night revelry after departure of the last train an more expensive proposition. Capsule accommodation charges -- 1,900 yen at the time, considerably undercut both business hotel charges and long-distance taxi fares.
Currently, Japan is estimated to have 300 capsule hotels in operation.
While many still regard capsule hotels as being low-cost overnight accommodations for salarymen traveling on limited per diem budgets, Shukan Jitsuwa (March 30) reports that more of them are going upscale and targeting the tourist trade, particularly female tourists.
"The standard view for both capsule hotels and business hotels is a rate of about 5,000 yen per night," a local reporter tells the magazine. "Most of them are located close to areas with night life around Sanjo or Shijo avenues; but more recently they're preparing to open new places close to famous Kyoto sights like Arashiyama, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Uji and so on."
The city's newest capsule hotel opened for business on Feb 15. Named The PRIME POD Kyoto, it is located in the city's Chuo Ward, close to the Sanjo Ohashi bridge over the Kamo River, about 15 minutes by bus from Kyoto Central Station. (http://theprimepod.jp/kyotolp.pdf)
Another hotel, Capsule Ryokan Kyoto, appeals to backpackers and other low-budget travelers with traditional Japanese style interior such as tatami mats and sliding screens.
"Capsule hotels have been increasing in Kyoto in response to the severe shortage of hotel space," a travel writer tells Shukan Jitsuwa. "Over the past several years, demand by foreign visitors has exceeded projections. And while 'minpaku' (stays in private homes) has also increased, the fact is that the number of such places where people can stay comfortably handle the overflow."
Growing numbers of budget-conscious visitors from Asia have been seeking affordable accommodations throughout the Kansai area, not only Kyoto.
But what makes Kyoto different is the demand for Japanese female travelers desiring clean accommodations and privacy, as well as esthetic treatment services and other amenities.
"The so-called 'rekijo koka' (increased demand by young female visitors who have a strong interest in history that predates the Edo period) is still ongoing, with more women traveling solo," said a hotel operator in the Kiyamachi district. "We are also seeing a ballooning of demand by 'inbound' (travelers from abroad). I suppose this also ties in with the trend toward to attract female travelers by incorporating more upscale features."© Japan Today